Direct bar access under threat as Law Soc challenges Bar Council

The Bar Council and the Law Society were at loggerheads in the Court of Appeal last week in a case that could determine the future of the bar’s direct access scheme.

The Law Society was supporting HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) in its appeal over the costs payable to Andre Agassi’s accountants Tenon after the tennis star’s November 2004 victory over the amount of income tax that was payable on his sponsorship earnings.

Tenon instructed Gray’s Inn Tax Chambers member Patrick Way directly for the High Court and Court of Appeal hearings in the case using the bar’s ‘Licensed Access Scheme’, which permits licensed organisations to bypass solicitors.

Office managing director Julian Hedley said: “We were looking for a cost-effective solution. We didn’t feel we needed a solicitor.”

The two hearings ran up costs of £15,000 for Tenon and £20,000 for Way. As Agassi won at the Court of Appeal stage, HMRC is liable for costs. But it argued, supported by the Law Society’s intervention, that the court did not have jurisdiction to order the payment of Tenon’s fees.

The argument brought by Tenon and the Bar Council was that if HMRC’s argument succeeds, it will discourage other litigants from using a scheme that was originally designed to save money.

“The grave concern here is that if our costs are not allowed, then the Licensed Access Scheme must surely fail,” said Hedley, adding: “We’ve never held ourselves out as solicitors.”

Describing Agassi as a “litigant partly in person” because he did not in- struct a solicitor, Anthony Speaight QC of 4 Pump Court for the Bar Council submitted that there was no principle preventing the costs order.

The Law Society instructed Landmark Chambers’ Richard Drabble QC.

HMRC declined to comment.